Charles Zubik Sr. once owned a towboat and salvage operation on the North Side, and kept a fleet of towboats and rusted barges parked along the northern bank of the Allegheny River. It was an eyesore. A “floating junk pile,” one newspaper wrote.
This was in the late 1950s. Pittsburgh was changing. Millions were being spent to remake the Golden Triangle into a gleaming business center. The once-decrepit Point was becoming a park.
Zubik’s flotilla had to go.
So on May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh’s safety director delivered an eviction notice to Zubik’s office.
KDKA assigned a photographer to film the event. His name was William Nogach.This would be big news. The city had been complaining about Zubik’s boats and barges for years. Nogach set up his camera and began rolling.
His film shows Zubik charging the camera with his arms raised in what was later described as a “threatening gesture.” Zubik then slugged Nogach.
Nogach was no pushover. He’s described in newspaper articles as “husky.” In pictures he wears glasses and looks mild-mannered. Zubik claimed the camera operator then kicked him “in my side, where I had an operation three years ago and I went down.”
At this point, Zubik’s daughter Virginia Drambel charged out of the office and, witnesses claimed, bit Nogach on the arm.
Police were there. Zubik and Drambel were arrested.
A year later, Zubik was in court. Photographers were waiting. Newspapers couldn’t resist a story like this.
“No one’s going to take my picture,” Zubik snapped. He brandished a cane and practically dared anyone to try.
Zubik then took off the Panama hat resting on his head and poked a hole in its top. He covered his face with the hat and peeked through the newly created eyehole.
He was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $100 for his altercation with Nogac. But the city’s eviction didn’t stick. Zubik’s fleet remained on the river for another decade, despite continued attempts by the city to have it removed.
Zubik, who had immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1902, got his start on the river years later. After fire burned the wooden 16th Street bridge in 1918, Zubik ferried people across the Allegheny River.
Decades later, Zubik was a river king of sorts. But his towboat and salvage operation offended a lot of people. For years, Zubik tangled with the Army Corps of Engineers, unions and newsmen, as well as the city.
Once he battled a five-ton elephant scheduled to perform on water skis on the Allegheny River. This happened on Memorial Day in 1959. Water-skiing Elephants need a considerable amount of room. Zubik’s barges were in the way. The city ordered the barges to be moved and, in this instance, Zubik complied.
The “Baron of Barges” died of a heart attack in his home in 1966. The last of his dilapidated fleet sailed away in 1970.